Author : Sharon Molloy
“That’s the surprise, Daddy?”
A family of four stood in the restaurant lobby, watching unfamiliar shapes moving in a huge tank.
They’re staring at me!”
“No, they’re not. They don’t have eyelids.”
“They have too many legs.”
“Those aren’t legs, and they need all of them.”
“Well, they’re ugly.”
The maître d’robots led them into a marine blue dining room, its walls softly lit by track lighting and water reflections. They sat at pier-shaped chairs around a table resembling a wharf built around a glass touchscreen showing rippling water. Touching the screen floated four menus to the surface as if the table was a glass-bottomed boat.
The mother had chosen the seat facing a loopicture showing the ocean currents flowing around raised areas representing the continents. Warm currents were yellowish green, cold ones, deep navy.
“Remember our spring break in California? These days, that’s when they start coming up here to cool off. The forecast says it’ll be even warmer this year.”
“When the radiation decays, we’ll even be able to swim in the ocean again on spring breaks… in 300 years or so.”
A robot, shaped like a small dory on a three-wheeled leg, came ferrying their orders, dodging the other robot dories until it docked at the edge of their table. Once the parents had distributed the food, the dory drifted away.
“Why is it white? What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing.” The mother calmly cut a piece and lifted it to her mouth.
“How do you eat this stuff? It keeps falling off my spork.”
“Scoop it up like we showed you.”
“It falls apart.”
“Well, it’s not tofu. It’s fillet.”
“I can’t fill it.”
“Mom’s is orange!”
“If you wanted trout you should’ve asked for trout.”
“What’s this black stuff?”
“Skin, sweetie. You can eat that too. It’s tasty!”
“You can’t like this stuff? It’s gross!”
“All new food is gross, son. Just keep eating, and it’ll stop being gross.”
“Everybody… please stop saying that word.”
“Why? Because its… ‘gross’?”
The children began giggling.
“Mmmm… I haven’t tasted this in years! Where did you ever get such a great idea?”
“Oh… guy talk.”
“My grandfather used to fish, and even caught a few, but he never ate any. The river was already too polluted. So where did this come from?”
“They raise them in tanks, bigger than that one of course, built in underground caves, so they don’t need refrigeration,” the father explained. “Must be why it doesn’t cost a mint,” he muttered to himself.
“We gotta eat this new stuff all the time now??”
“It’s not new, it’s old. We used to eat it every week when we were your age, but it’s hard to get now.”
“Good. It’s yucky.”
“And it tastes all weird. I can’t eat this.”
“Well, try. Not all children get to go to a fish restaurant. They’re expensive.”
“Kids don’t appreciate that, dear. They will after they grow up. Anyway, I certainly enjoyed it. Thank you.”
“Happy birthday, honey.”
“I want dessert.”
“I’m still hungry.”
“No dessert. You both need protein.”
“I want a burger! Let’s stop at – ”
“That’s enough restaurants for one day. I’ll wifi the kitchen so something will be ready when we get home. What would you like?”
“3-S! 3-S!” they both shouted.
“Silkworms are just a snack, soy sauce or no. I’m adding locust patties.”
“And cricket-flour bread. I still want a burger.”
“Then chocolate-covered ants for dessert!”
“Honey, remember when you vowed no such thing would ever come home in our groceries?”
Author : Bob Newbell
I’m going to die here, thought Or’Vykl to himself.
Or’Vykl stared out through the visor in his helmet at what had been a residential suburb of Birmingham, Alabama. The area showed little evidence of the orbital bombardment that had fallen upon more strategically important areas of North America. Or’Vykl looked from one house to the next. So many places to hide, he thought. He imagined a sniper shooting him dead from some second story window. Or maybe one of the houses is boobytrapped and an explosive device would kill him as soon as he entered. He forced himself to walk on.
Or’Vykl thought about the atmosphere on the other side of his faceplate. It was a lethal cocktail of nitrogen and oxygen and the pressure was one-fifth of what it was back home. He looked up. Even after all this time on Earth he had never gotten used to seeing a blue sky. Worse still, the star this planet orbited was a sickly yellow color, not the warm and reassuring red sun under which he had been hatched.
Suddenly, a sound came from the house on his left. Or’Vykl jumped behind a car and leveled his rifle at the house. For five solid minutes he crouched, ready to run if he could, ready to fight if he had to. At last, he convinced himself the sound had been a cat or the wind rattling a loose shutter or some such thing. He slowly got up and proceeded down the street.
Why are we even here, he thought. Why travel dozens of light-years to fight these people? They didn’t know we existed much less posed a threat until we bombed and invaded them. If this war had never started, right now I’d be back home sunning myself on a lounge rock and drinking a tall glass of–
A shot rang out. Or’Vykl froze. His helmet’s faceplate’s display showed a flashing blue dot annotating where his battlesuit’s sensors determined the shot originated. He aimed his rifle, shot three times, and then ran behind a trash dumpster.
“Or’Vykl to Enforcement! Sector 795, grid–” He consulted his display. “Grid 44! Taking fire! Request support!” He waited for a response. None came. “Enforcement, are you receiving? Request support in Sector 795, grid 44!” His helmet’s display showed he wasn’t even getting a synchronize-acknowledgment from Enforcement. His transmission was being blocked. The humans must have gotten their hands on a subspace transceiver and repurposed it into a jamming device.
Suddenly, he heard another shot and instantly felt searing pain in his back. “Warning!” said a synthetic voice in his ears, “Containment failure!” His battlesuit was venting chlorine. He had to get to safety and try to seal the breach. There was a large truck a short distance to the right. If I can get underneath it, I might have a chance, he thought.
He positioned himself to make a sprint for the truck, then he paused. What if he was being set up? Had the first shot been intended to make him run for the dumpster so he could be shot in the back? Was the apparent safety of the truck a subterfuge?
He ran. It was time for action, not second guessing, he thought. A moment later, he was flying through the air. He had run over an explosive device. His left leg was gone. He heard a voice in the distance say, “Got the son of a bitch!”
Or’Vykl was surprised by how little pain or fear he felt now. His last thought was his distaste for that blue alien sky.
Author : J.D. Rice
Her mouth opens wide, eyes squeezed shut in a show of agony, teeth bared, then suddenly comes to a stop. The moment of her death slows to a crawl, like time itself is standing still. They say this is what it’s like to see someone die. Everything just slows down as you watch the person breathe their last breath, say their last goodbye, or simply scream, scream as death carries them off into the night.
But I hear no scream, and time isn’t just standing still as a metaphor. She drifts only feet from where I clutch to the hatch combing, frozen in place, dying for eternity. Moments pass and still she hangs motionless in the air, a silent scream frozen on her agonized face, covered with the helmet of her bio-suit. They told us not to come aboard the station, that the alien technology had yet to be identified. But with our ship low on fuel, and what did they expect a salvage crew like ours to do? “Unidentified alien tech” might as well read “solid gold.”
We should have listened. Now I can only wait futilely by the locked hatch and stare into my own future. The time dilation field keeps expanding, inch by inch. First the radios went out, leaving us in silence. Then her hand become stuck to the tiny device. Even then she was screaming, wrenching her body against the device trying to her hand free. Then it slowly enveloped her, freezing her forever in the final moments of her death. Frozen to the world for all eternity, yet dying in an instant on the inside. At least that’s what I hope. It’s the only hope I have as the field slowly crawls closer to where I drift.
My flashlight is the next thing to freeze. I dropped it when the commotion started and it drifted in the weightless corridor, waiting to be snatched. I can see now that it has stopped drifting, hanging motionless just a few feet away. I see the rays of light it cast as a sheet of glass hanging in the air, and wonder for a moment what this says about the age old “particle” vs. “wave” debate. This is the last intellectual thought I have before the field finally expands and envelopes me as well.
“Nooooooooo!” her voice suddenly rings in my ears through the radio. The sheet of light is gone, replaced by simple, invisible rays once again. Looking up, I see that her face no longer holds the silent scream, but only a look of puzzlement and confusion.
“You…” she starts to say, pointing to where I floated when she was first frozen, then to where I am now near the hatch combing.
I open my mouth to speak, but then the entire ship shutters. We drop like flies to the ground as the artificial gravity kicks back on. I end up somewhere to left of where I floated, and find my feet quickly. We’re used to this sort of thing on our rickety salvage ship. But here?
“What’s going on?” my companion asks, before a voice cuts her off, overriding our radios.
“Welcome, travelers,” the voice says. “Welcome to the end of the universe.”
A light flashes out the small window to my right, and I join my companion in gazing out into the unfamiliar space beyond. The stars are gone, as is our ship. Outside, we see nothing but a tiny speck of a light in the distance, which flickers violently for a moment then disappears.
“The end of the universe?” I say, looking out into the nothingness that once held the entire cosmos.
“Yes,” the voice says. “The end of one universe, and the start of another.”
There is another flash of light, a tremendous force pushing against the hull of the ship, and then nothing but white. This time there are no screams, only two quiet gasps, before the birth of the new universe carries us away.
Author : Edward D. Thompson (edacious)
Erica poured her first cup of the morning, missing the friendly hum of greeting the coffee pot used to make. The day had begun with such a homey feel then. The crackle of the toaster, the busy hum and whine of the microwave, the steady, reliable clicks and hums of the fridge, heater, A/C, and the rest had enveloped her, made her feel loved, part of a family. But doctors were right, it was crazy to think machines talked to her, or that she could talk to them.
She made her way to the breakfast nook, using the remote now to turn on the morning news. She supposed that had been part of her … confusion, too; the machines doing as she asked.
Most of all she missed the massive, endless throb of the Conversation, the sense that millions of voices were clamoring for her attention, indecipherable, just out of her reach. If she just had a little more time, she’d have worked out how to talk to them, how to join in.
She shook herself; if she kept dwelling on that she’d never get better and they’d put her away or … something. Best to take her pills. That always quieted her thoughts.
“Can you reassure me, Colonel, that this won’t happen again?”
“Yes, Senator, all units are confirmed in passive surveillance mode and will remain so till ready for phase two. We’re still investigating how the subject’s implant booted to active, but it appears that the positioning of the chip, combined with a heightened sensitivity of her particular nervous system allowed her to bond with the chip and access its interactive mode.”
The Senator sat up in alarm, “Did she actually access the system!? The information … she could ID us! Send out orders!”
“No sir! We caught her just in time and we’ve confirmed that no other units have been activated. We’re actively scanning the populace for subjects who have the potential to do so. We’ve identified …” the Colonel consulted his phone, “… about two dozen so far and have taken the appropriate steps to neutralize them. Future chips have been reworked to prevent the issue. We’ll be ready to start sending out test commands to select units right on schedule.”
The Senator nodded gravely, somewhat relieved, “I want weekly updates. We can’t afford any surprises.”
Author : Rick Tobin
“Hey, Doc. How’s it going?” Mike Compton, freshly tanned, popped his head into the geneticist’s offices. His counselor remained seated, turned toward the window overlooking the campus quad featuring coeds being tempted to indecency on manicured lawns by the early spring heat. He remained in his high-backed chair, with only shoulders of a white lab coat visible to the student intruder.
“So much happened while you vacationed in Sydney.” Dr. Nellis remained behind his leather throne. Compton could smell pungent aftershave uncharacteristic of Nellis. “Yes, it’s part of your scholarship for rugby overseas. Just as well. You might have interfered. Now you’ll take over the Lambda S gene and lysis reconstruction research. I’m retiring. You and Dr. Cranston can continue the metabolite study for your masters.”
“You okay, Doc? Did you make breakthroughs on the cancer study? Is that why Thurgaurd pharma reps were here this morning? Everyone’s talking about it?” Compton looked around the atypically spotless office. “Oh, Dr. Kilborne at rehab asked about the portable bariatric chamber. She needs it for patients. Dr. Gillespie wants his meteor samples back, too. He’s miffed about you keeping them all winter.”
“Everyone’s talking, are they? Kilborne gets her contraption tomorrow. Gillespie can piss on a live wire. No, I didn’t find a cure for cancer. Who wants that? Salk got screwed on his polio patents. If I threatened billions in grants with a cure I’d be assassinated.” Nellis remained secluded from Compton’s view.
“So what’s the story? Why leave me with the lysis experiments when we’re close?”
“Do you read your Bible, Mike?”
“Weird. Okay. Yes. So?”
“There were giants before mankind, not just Goliath. Every culture has them. The megalithic structures are evidence. So, I investigated the possibility of behemoth bipeds in prehistory. A Smithsonian colleague sent me an ancient giant femur with productive DNA. My testing matched with new ancient climate data. Before the last ice age the oxygen levels weren’t higher, they were lower. Additionally, the air was rich in clouds of rare earth elements from billions of years of meteor barrages. Although we knew many of these elements were present in us, we didn’t know their purpose. I discovered that minute concentrations of niobium isotopes, inhaled in a lower oxygen environment, can stimulate the pituitary to safely increase human growth hormone in the hGH-N gene somatotrope. I had to be careful about lung scarring, but it had immediate effects on bone growth and calcium uptake.”
“That’s a huge leap, but if any of this was true, why isn’t everyone gigantic?”
“There are dysfunctional genes that cause acromegaly, but they are mutated remnants. After the great floods of legend, rare earths were washed from the air, becoming useless salts, with some becoming toxic to giants. Oxygen levels increased. Giant mammal days were numbered.”
“I wish you’d stay, but if you’ve made up your mind to retire, is there anything I can do before you take off?”
“Yes, Mike. I’d like your Carousel Club membership card. They restrict their clientele.”
“That’s a twist. You rarely go anywhere…and now a gentleman’s club? Sure, here’s the card.” Compton pulled the black plastic identification from his wallet.
“Thanks, Mike,” Ellis said, turning his chair, standing and towering over his student to accept the gift. Compton froze, aghast, staring into the face of his majestic seven-foot professor, sans thick glasses, sporting thick, long hair and a booming mustache. “I’ll remember you in my will.” Ellis threw his lab coat off, revealing his chiseled torso, as he grabbed a bulging duffel bag, heading for his first jaunt at the Carousel.